Columns 2015

“Defeat for humanity”

It’s funny how progress gets made sometimes. We often don’t even recognize it as such until we stop and ponder the implications. On first hearing the news last week that same sex couples receiving health benefits through the state employee system would now have to be married, my gut reaction was that this was just another effort to deny same sex couples their rights. Then I remembered that same sex couples have the same rights as anyone else to marry here, and I realized this requirement was progress.

Treating all people equally in civil society is the mark of a civil society that actually believes in what it claims to be. Religion should not be involved in this decision because it has nothing to do with anyone’s particular belief system.  We are a country of laws and the law should treat us all the same.

Our younger generation gets that in a way that my generation may not. Most young people I know are baffled about the whole raging debate. They have grown up knowing people who are gay, watching shows with gay characters and sharing life’s experiences with gay friends. It became evident to them early on that gay people are just people who love someone of the same sex. No big deal.

A few weeks ago when Ireland voted to legalize gay marriage there was a lot of talk that the vote was really a repudiation of the moral authority of the Catholic Church there. Whether it was abusing children physically and sexually or taking babies away from mothers and selling them, the church had lost the trust of the population.  After the votes were tallied, the only response from the Vatican was a spokesman for the Pope calling the vote, “a defeat for humanity.”

This left me saddened. It seemed as though Pope Francis was hiding behind his spokesman so as not to have his developing reputation as a liberal and liberating force in the church be challenged. This was a chance for this pope to welcome with open arms many people who want to be fully involved Catholics but who can’t because the Church views them as living in sin. That statement released by the Vatican served no purpose other than to further alienate people who were already on the fence about the Church. 

The general public is well aware that the Catholic Church disapproves of what it considers a sinful lifestyle. This one little statement didn’t reveal anything new in the Church’s attitude. It didn’t change the outcome and didn’t create a positive discussion of the matter. In fact, it didn’t make the slightest difference except for the bad taste it left in many peoples’ mouths.  Given the Church’s recent past in Ireland, it could be said that their protection of pedophiles was a much bigger defeat for humanity than same sex marriage.

I just heard that my childhood church had finally fallen to the changes in Atlantic City and would be closing. I felt a twinge of sadness at that news. It had been the central focus of my life from the time my memories start until I left for college. But that twinge of sadness was all about nostalgia and nothing else. In talking with family and friends, the majority reacted the same way I did. A twinge of sadness at the memories the church held but no regrets that a church was closing.

That’s because most of my contemporaries have long since left the church, driven out by a variety of reasons that mostly comes down to the church insisting on a medieval mind set in a modern world. Don’t think of just the gay issue here, think birth control and divorce. If the church is hoping to once again appeal to them, it should probably stop putting out statements that recognizing the rights of gay people in a civil society is a defeat for humanity. Until it regains its moral authority in the western world, those words come out like a taunt to the adults still dealing with the trauma of priestly sexual assault.

The Catholic Church does some wonderful work in this world. The new pope seems poised to actually move the church into the new millennia. His efforts are only hurt when these statements are released. They help no one and only harm the church in the eyes of many of the people the church wants to woo back to its pews.